The NBA Championship of Florida: Heat v. Magic
Rivalries bring out the passion that makes sports as popular as they are today. Especially regional and local rivalries. Yankees-Red Sox. Barcelona-Real Madrid. Gators-Seminoles. Auburn-Alabama. Giants-Dodgers. Olympiakos-Panathinaikos. UCF-USF. Packers-Bears. Duke-North Carolina. Maple Leafs-Canadiens. Blackhawks-Red Wings. Sounders-Timbers. Seahawks-49ers. Michigan-Ohio State.
Miami versus Orlando. Magic versus Heat. Why is this Sunshine State NBA matchup never in the conversation? There are only these two professional basketball clubs in Florida.
Whenever these two expansion teams face each other, the word ‘rivalry’ almost never gets used anymore. You can credit a variety of things for this being the case. Free agency and trades. A lack of playoff meetings (only one in 1997). The locker rooms and coaching staffs of both franchises never hyping up a sunshine state clash. Probably the main factor is that the Heat and Magic are still young organizations with developing fan bases.
If you commute via the Florida Turnpike, the two franchises are separated by 234 miles. Only a three or 4-hour drive.
Miami got their NBA franchise in the ’88-’89 season while Orlando followed a year later.
Orlando’s franchise win-loss record is 1002-1000. Miami’s is 1085-999.
The regular season win-loss matchup record is 55-44 in favor of the Heat.
Since the Southeast Division was created in the 2004-2005 season, either the Heat or Magic have won the division crown.
The Heat have had 18 playoff appearances. Orlando has been stuck on 14 for a few years.
Miami has 5 Conference titles. The Magic have two.
The Heat have 11 division titles. Orlando trails with five.
Obviously the biggest gap between the two teams is Miami’s 3 NBA championships to Orlando’s zero. It hurts for sure if you live in Central Florida. If it doesn’t, then you’re either a transplant and/or you don’t like basketball.
But what happens when we do a season by season breakdown of the two franchises to see which team is superior?
Heat: 15-67; 6th in Midwest Division; No Playoffs
Winner: Heat…by default.
Although if you only manage fifteen victories in an 82-game season, can you REALLY be considered a winner? Orlando already knew it was being given a franchise after all. Kevin Edwards was Miami’s leading scorer on the season at 13.8 ppg. That’s bad and there is no sugarcoating it. Miami ranked dead last out of 25 NBA teams in points scored per game. Do Heat fans even know who Rory Sparrow was? I will say it’s pretty cool that Ron Rothstein is still with the Heat franchise, and here he is as the Head Coach of their inaugural season.
Heat: 18-64; 5th in Atlantic Division; No Playoffs
Magic: 18-64; 7th in Central Division; No Playoffs
For starters, it’s Orlando’s inaugural season. There were only 27 NBA teams – see the wonky division placements – at the time and Miami ranked 24th in both offense and defense. Orlando may have had the worst defense in the league – giving up a gaudy 119.8 ppg – but at least Coach Matt Guokas had his Magic men running on offense which was 5th-best in the Association. The entertainment tiebreaker is obvious here. Terry Catledge and Reggie Theus were doing a lot of scoring in those pinstripes. The Orlando Arena also beat out the Miami Arena in attendance. Rony Seikaly did at least make quite a leap in his sophomore season to lead Miami in scoring.
Below you’ll find things get much better for both franchises.
Heat: 24-58; 6th in Atlantic Division; No Playoffs
Magic: 31-51; 4th in Midwest Division; No Playoffs
Glen Rice and Sherman Douglas were both in their sophomore campaigns, but that did not stop them from being Miami’s top two scorers. Miami still were only good enough to rank 21st in both offense and defense. If Seikaly doesn’t miss 18 games, the record gap would be much tighter. Willie Burton ended up making the all-rookie second team. The Magic’s offense was beginning to slow down, dropping from 3rd to 6th in Pace and their points per game falling from 5th to 14th. Scott Skiles would have arguably his best season in his career as he led the team in scoring. Theus being gone and Catledge being injured for half the season meant sophomore Nick Anderson and rookie Dennis Scott needed to pick up the offensive slack. It was good enough to be better than their in-state rival.
Heat: 38-44; 4th in Atlantic Division; Swept 3-0 by Chicago Bulls in 1st Round
Magic: 21-61; 7th in Atlantic Division; No Playoffs
Finally in the same division. Ron Rothstein was replaced as Heat Head Coach by Kevin Loughery, and clearly it helped as Miami got to taste the playoffs first out of the sunshine state franchises. Seikaly and Rice could only do so much, they needed more help to be a playoff team. Orlando had 3-D, Anderson, Jerry Reynolds, Otis Smith, and Sam Vincent miss a massive chunk of games. Otis and Vincent end up retiring. Magic Head Coach Matt Guokas’ side had an unlucky Atlantic division debut, but Orlando picked a great season to regress with Shaquille O’Neal being the top draft prize later that summer.
Heat: 36-46; 5th in Atlantic Division; No Playoffs
Magic: 41-41; 4th in Atlantic Division; No Playoffs
One of the handful of times where finishing .500 in the Eastern Conference wasn’t good enough to get into the playoffs. Too bad for Guokas, as he was let go. Brian Hill would reap the rewards of having Shaq and Anfernee Hardaway later that summer. Shaq was the first All-Star of both franchises, and this kid is a rookie. It’s amazing how Orlando won 41 games considering it was only Shaq, Skiles, and Nick scoring. 3-D missed half the season. Orlando had the 11th-best offense and the 12-best defense. Unlucky late-game scenarios bit them at the end. This team should have won 45 games. Guokas really deserved to stick around another season.
Meanwhile, Miami still had Seikaly and Rice carrying the franchise. Steve Smith and Kevin Edwards each missed half of the season. Grant Long had peaked at PF. They ranked 12th in defense, but only 20th on offense as there again was little scoring support.
Heat: 42-40; 4th in Atlantic Division; Lost 3-2 to Atlanta Hawks in 1st Round
Magic: 50-32: 2nd in Atlantic Division; Lost 3-0 to Indiana Pacers in 1st Round
Sweep or no sweep, Orlando still had the better season. That Pacers team came within 1 game of reaching the NBA Finals. B-Hill’s first season at the helm and he started a rookie Penny for all 82 games. Good timing too because Skiles was on the decline. Orlando was lacking a great PF as Turner, Donald Royal, and Larry Krystkowiak were not cutting it, and it costed them in the postseason. They still had the 6th-best offense, their defense just needed to be upgraded. Horace Grant would be the solution that summer.
Miami had the 7th-best offense and 11th-best defense. Rice, Steve Smith, Seikaly, and Long were able to stay healthy. Harold Miner in his sophomore campaign played an efficient 63 contests that were enough to get them into the postseason. Seikaly disappeared in the playoffs against Atlanta. It’s not good when Bimbo Coles is your 2nd-best scorer. That Hawks team was pretty solid with Danny Manning, Mookie Blaylock, Kevin Willis, Stacey Augmon, and Craig Ehlo producing. It’s interesting that both Steve Smith and Grant Long would end up being dealt to Atlanta at the start of the ’94-’95 season.
Heat: 32-50; 4th in Atlantic Division; No Playoffs
Magic: 57-25; 1st in Atlantic Division; Lost 4-0 to Houston Rockets in NBA Finals
The first time either franchise claimed the division or conference crown it was Orlando who did it. Kevin Loughery exits in the middle of the season. Alvin Gentry temporarily warms the Head Coach seat. Seikaly gets to dealt to Golden State. The roster gets cleaned up. Orlando goes on their phenomenal regular season and playoff run that ends harshly with that sweep to Houston. Just one of those 4 free throw, Nick, just one.
Heat: 42-40; 3rd in Atlantic Division; Swept 3-0 by Chicago Bulls in 1st Round
Magic: 60-22; 1st in Atlantic Division; Swept 4-0 by Chicago Bulls in Eastern Conference Finals
The Pat Riley era begins in Miami while no one was aware that this would be the last hurrah of the Shaq era in Orlando. Riley would have Alonzo Mourning and Tim Hardaway joining him on this journey to championship contending. The Magic had two drastic differences go against them in their Bulls playoff rematch: 1. Michael Jordan was fully back. 2. Injuries to guys like Horace hampered the Magic’s chances. Worse yet, Shaq departs for Los Angeles before the Atlanta Summer Olympics and the Magic were no longer title contenders.
Heat: 61-21; 1st in Atlantic Division; Lost 4-1 to Chicago Bulls in Eastern Conference Finals
Magic: 45-37; 3rd in Atlantic Division; Lost 3-2 to Miami Heat in 1st Round
Finally, the two franchises meet in the postseason. It’s too bad it’s been their only playoff encounter. P.J. Brown is a tough free agency signing for Miami. The Heat gets Jamal Mashburn at the Trade Deadline and Dan Majerle becomes a decent pickup. Voshon Lenard being healthy didn’t hurt either. There was the Brian Hill mutiny during the middle of Orlando’s season, then Penny and Richie Adubato came oh so close to upsetting Miami. Seikaly in the regular season was a godsend, but his injury in Game 3 opened the door for Darrell Armstrong to get more involved. Gerald Wilkins picked up the offensive scoring that Nick and 3-D struggled to provide. Derek Strong proved valuable at PF with Horace out for that entire series.
Game 3 and 4 of that series are why Penny will forever be my favorite basketball player.
Heat: 55-27; 1st in Atlantic Division; Lost 3-2 to New York Knicks in 1st Round
Magic: 41-41; 5th in Atlantic Division; No Playoffs
Talk about a competitive division. Chuck Daly took over the Magic and finished .500 despite having Penny for only 19 games. Nick and Darrell can’t stay healthy, and Seikaly gets dealt at the deadline. Chuck did an admirable coaching job considering what he had to work with. There was a lot of reliance on veterans such as Mark Price and Derek Harper. Miami won 55 games and they only had Mashburn and Mourning for just over half the season. This is the start of just a miserable 3-year period of suffering playoff exits at the hands of the Knicks.
Heat: 33-17; 1st in Atlantic Division; Lost 3-2 to New York Knicks in 1st Round
Magic: 33-17; 2nd in Atlantic Division; Lost 3-1 to Philadelphia 76ers in 1st Round
Our first taste of a Lockout season. Both Florida teams squandered away home court advantage and were upset far too soon in the playoffs. Mashburn again misses half a regular season and struggles in another 1st Round postseason exits to the Knicks. Isaac Austin was far from the providing anywhere near the production Orlando was used to from the center position. Penny, Nick Anderson, Chuck Daly, all exit the Magic Kingdom as Orlando hit the reset button hard.
Heat: 52-30; 1st in Atlantic Division; Lost 4-3 to New York Knicks in Eastern Conference Semifinals
Magic: 41-41; 4th in Atlantic Division; No Playoffs
This was Miami’s first season inside their still current home of AmericanAirlines Arena. Orlando on the other hand had renamed the O-Rena to the TD Waterhouse Centre. The Magic again miss out on the playoffs with a .500 record, but that didn’t put a damper on how much fun Orlando supporters had watching Doc Rivers coach his Heart N’ Hustle bunch. Miami gets Mashburn back, only to lose Voshon Lenard to injury and having Tim Hardaway play miserably. That bunch never could put it all together.
Heat: 50-32; 2nd in Atlantic Division; Swept 3-0 to Charlotte Hornets in 1st Round
Magic: 43-39; 4th in Atlantic Division; Lost 3-1 to Milwaukee Bucks in 1st Round
It’s really a shame the Magic never could get Grant Hill healthy when they needed him most. Tracy McGrady would embark on his 4 years as basically a one-man show. He’d get some help from Pat Garrity, Darrell, as well as Mike Miller who would win Rookie of the Year. Orlando managed to have the 6th-best offense in the NBA. Meanwhile, Miami’s offense was near the bottom but their defense 2nd-best in the league. It was the first year of Eddie Jones, Brian Grant, and Anthony Mason in South Beach. A 34-year-old Mason somehow made the All-Star Game for the only time in his career. Mourning though would only play 13 regular season games. Even when ‘Zo came back for the playoffs, Miami were absolutely obliterated by Charlotte in the postseason. Tim Hardaway’s time with the franchise was over as he couldn’t produce any longer.
Heat: 36-46; 6th in Atlantic Division; No Playoffs
Magic: 44-38; 3rd in Atlantic Division; Lost 3-1 to Charlotte Hornets in 1st Round
Miami had the best defense but also the worst offense in the 29-team league. Fascinating. The Heat had brought in a lot of low cost veterans as a band-aid, but they still couldn’t score. After taking down Charlotte the previous postseason, it’d make sense for the Hornets to defeat Orlando. It’s not great when Troy Hudson is your 3rd-best scorer. A skinnier Baron Davis, Elden Campbell, David Wesley, Jamaal Magloire, and P.J. Brown was too good of a combination of youth and experience. Patrick Ewing just didn’t have the knees for the Magic to count on him as he’d retire after the campaign concluded.
Heat: 25-57; 7th in Atlantic Division; No Playoffs
Magic: 42-40; 4th in Atlantic Division; Lost 4-3 to Detroit Pistons in 1st Round
Miami picked the right season to collapse as they would net Dwyane Wade later that summer. They had to because of Mourning’s kidney disease. Caron Butler in his rookie campaign was about the only Heat bright spot. As for the Magic, if only the 1st Round format had not switched from Best-of-5 to Best-of-7. Otherwise, T-MAC would have made it to the second round right then and there. Alas, the Magic fall apart after going up 3-1 in the series. Horace and Doc have that early divorce in the regular season. The Magic had to trade Tracy’s buddy Mike Miller, but it ended up being a great move because Drew Gooden and Gordan Giricek were outstanding following the Trade Deadline. McGrady should have won MVP.
Heat: 42-40; 2nd in Atlantic Division; Lost 4-2 to Indiana Pacers in Eastern Conference Semifinals
Magic: 21-61; 7th in Atlantic Division; No Playoffs
Stan Van Gundy began his brief stint in Miami. Having young guns in Wade and Butler helped a lot that’s for certain. So did Rafer Alston and Lamar Odom. Meanwhile, Doc gets fired by the Magic after 11 games. T-MAC falls apart both mentally and physically and it’s just a disaster of a campaign. The offseason signing by John Gabriel of Juwan Howard really contributed in large part to crushing Gooden’s confidence and psyche. Gabriel exits and John Weisbrod brings his bulldozer.
Heat: 59-23; 1st in Southeast Division; Lost 4-3 to Detroit Pistons in Eastern Conference Finals
Magic: 36-46; 3rd in Southeast Division; No Playoffs
Hello 30 NBA teams, and greetings to the creation of the Southeast division. Poor SVG gets the Heat within a game of the Finals, but that will get overshadowed due to his clashes with Shaq. Udonis Haslem had quite the underrated sophomore campaign. The Magic have rookies Dwight Howard and Jameer Nelson while Weisbrod got a pretty good haul in dealing McGrady by acquiring Steve Francis, Cuttino Mobley, and Kelvin Cato. Even Grant Hill managed to play 67 games. For the first two months, the trade looks phenomenal before injuries start creeping in and then the hockey guy deals Cuttino for Doug Christie. All downhill from there. Johnny Davis gets removed as coach with a 31-33 record and Chris Jent finishes the season at 5-13.
Heat: 52-30; 1st in Southeast Division; Win 4-2 v. Dallas Mavericks in NBA Finals
Magic: 36-46; 3rd in Southeast Division; No Playoffs
*Sigh* This is where Miami really starts to pull ahead in the ‘rivalry’ as Pat Riley – following SVG getting canned 21 games in – is at the helm to claim the first NBA title for the Sunshine State. Shaq grows his legacy. Jason Williams gets his ring after just missing out in Sacramento. Antoine Walker and Gary Payton come along for the ride. Mourning gets his ring to solidify quite a remarkable comeback to what would be a Hall of Fame career.
Brian Hill was back for his 2nd coaching stint with the Magic. Grant Hill only plays 21 games. Dwight and Jameer are still developing. Francis becomes unstable. Hedo Turkoglu begins a 4-year run of fantastic play. DeShawn Stevenson gives us a sneak peek at his abilities that would eventually win him a title in Dallas. The Trade Deadline acquisitions of Carlos Arroyo and Darko Milicic add some intrigue, but the Magic wouldn’t have enough to get into the playoffs.
Heat: 44-38; 1st in Southeast Division; Swept 4-0 by Chicago Bulls in 1st Round
Magic: 40-42; 3rd in Southeast Division; Swept 4-0 by Detroit Pistons in 1st Round
Shaq and Wade can’t stay healthy, Jason Kapono is the team’s 3rd-best scorer, and yet Miami still limps into the postseason. Luol Deng, Ben Gordon, Ben Wallace, Andres Nocioni, Kirk Hinrich, and the rest of the Bulls easily dethrone them. G-Hill plays 65 contests and finally makes it to a postseason in a Magic jersey. That season was probably Darko’s best in his disappointing NBA career. Orlando continues to get outmatched by the Pistons.
Heat: 15-67; 5th in Southeast Division; No Playoffs
Magic: 52-30; 1st in Southeast Division; Lost 4-1 to Detroit Pistons in Eastern Conference Semifinals
SVG’s revenge against Pat Riley begins here. The Magic dish out big money for Rashard Lewis. Trevor Ariza gets dealt to the Lakers for Maurice Evans and Brian Cook which favors the Magic at the time. Not the case in a year and a half. Orlando had not won a playoff series since the ’96 postseason, before finally taking down the Toronto Raptors in this first round. In Miami, Wade misses a large chunk of games and Shaq gets dealt to Phoenix. It’s never good to allow Ricky Davis to shoot so much.
Heat: 43-39; 3rd in Southeast Division; Lost 4-3 to Atlanta Hawks in 1st Round
Magic: 59-23; 1st in Southeast Division; Lost 4-1 to Los Angeles Lakers in NBA Finals
It’s amazing how quickly 5 years go by. SVG’s men were top 10 in offense and defense. After struggling to dispatch of Philly in the first round, few expected the Magic to get past the Celtics and LeBron James‘ Cavaliers. Close, but no cigar in the Finals once more for Orlando as the Lakers proved too much. Ariza’s defense and Derek Fisher dropping in clutch shots over a clearly unready Jameer. Courtney Lee, Mickael Pietrus, and Rafer Alston were a fantastic supporting cast for Dwight, Rashard, and Hedo. Erik Spoelstra began his own era in Miami. Michael Beasley as a rookie was the team’s 2nd-highest scorer as D-Wade had to go into T-MAC mode to reach the playoffs.
Heat: 47-35; 3rd in Southeast Division; Lost 4-1 to Boston Celtics in 1st Round
Magic: 59-23; 1st in Southeast Division; Lost 4-2 to Boston Celtics in Eastern Conference Finals
Again, Wade needed more help aside from Beasley and Jermaine O’Neal. The Magic were hoping C-Lee, Rafer, Tony Battie, and Hedo could be replaced by Vince Carter, Ryan Anderson, Matt Barnes, and J-Will. A healthy Celtics team would deny the Magic consecutive Finals trips. Rajon Rondo proved beyond problematic.
Heat: 58-24; 1st in Southeast Division; Lost 4-2 to Dallas Mavericks in NBA Finals
Magic: 52-30; 2nd in Southeast Division; Lost 4-2 to Atlanta Hawks in 1st Round
And here come LeBron James and Chris Bosh as the Magic truly begin declining. Thankfully, the Mavericks delay the title aspirations of the Big 3 for one season. In Orlando, Dwight was picking up bad habits both on and off the court. The Magic still ranked 4th on defense, but their average had dropped to average at best. GM Otis Smith got desperate. Dealing Marcin Gortat and Vinsanity for Jason Richardson and the return of Hedo. Then Otis sent Sweet Lew and brought back a physically and mentally inconsistent Gilbert Arenas. The Magic still shouldn’t have lost to Atlanta in the first round. Very disappointing.
Heat: 46-20; 1st in Southeast Division; Win 4-1 v. Oklahoma City Thunder in NBA Finals
Magic: 37-29; 3rd in Southeast Division; Lost 4-1 to Indiana Pacers in 1st Round
The other Lockout season – this time of the 66-game variety – during the span of both franchises. Magic fans would have to suffer through the Dwightmare as SVG’s swan song unfortunately came way too soon. Miami gets their 2nd championship with Mario Chalmers helping the Big 3. The OKC Thunder sort of remind me of the ’95 Magic in that they may have gotten to the Finals too soon.
Heat: 66-16; 1st in Southeast Division; Win 4-3 v. San Antonio Spurs in NBA Finals
Magic: 20-62; 5th in Southeast Division; No Playoffs
The Rob Hennigan-Jacque Vaughn era gets ushered in as ‘rebuild’ and ‘process’ become daily words while the Heat claim their 3rd NBA title with the addition of Ray Allen. Mike Miller will end up becoming underrated. That Miami team was top 5 in both offense and defense, and yet the Spurs were oh so close to snagging the championship.
Heat: 54-28; 1st in Southeast Division; Lost 4-2 to San Antonio Spurs in NBA Finals
Magic: 23-59; 5th in Southeast Division; No Playoffs
Thank you, Spurs. Wade hobbling and Miami lacking 3-point weapons proved too much to overcome in the end. The Magic complete their overhaul of the roster as their youth shows improvement in Year 2 of the rebuild.
So there we are. Miami holds a 15–11 season advantage. We’re still behind on the score sheet, Magic fans, but it’s a tight tally. So clearly, Orlando is due to swing the tide. I’d say sooner rather than later.
Can the Magic overtake Miami this upcoming ’14-’15 season? A lot rides on D-Wade’s legs, that’s for certain. Las Vegas and the vast majority of prediction analysts have the Heat still being better than Orlando. But that’s why they play the games.
How does one go about growing the rivalry, especially now that Miami isn’t a championship contender?
I want a regular season championship belt or trophy created, kind of like some college football rivalries have. After every regular season Heat-Magic matchup, the belt/trophy changes hands. If it’s a title belt, the MVP of that game can hoist it and wear it in all of its glory. If an Orlando-Miami playoff series occurs, the belt/trophy only changes hands after the series concludes. Rivalries should be embraced, they add extra emphasis to meaningless regular season contests. This is a perfect way to rekindle a Miami-Orlando feud. It’s going to happen with Orlando City once Miami gets an Major League Soccer team anyway, why not get the NBA franchises involved as well?
Imagine that Orange Bowl trophy top designed in the shape and lines of a basketball.
That belt can have a big state of Florida logo on it and it can be one side red and the other blue.
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